When Marilyn Paul was a graduate student in organizational behaviour at Yale University, she worked all the time. Being achievement-oriented had always been her style.
She became quite ill, perhaps from overwork, but still didn't change her pattern: Work … work … work. Then one night, she joined others in a Friday evening meal initiating the Jewish Sabbath, part of her heritage, but not part of her tradition.
"I was exposed to a group of high-pressured people – graduate students and professors – who were in a state of tangible peace," Ms. Paul, now a San Francisco-based consultant, recalls in an interview. "They were relaxing and joyful.
"There were strong connections and conviviality. I realized I needed that. But of course, I went home and went back to work."
Still, she sensed she needed to learn how to take a timeout, and went back to the monthly gatherings.
She extended the break from work into Saturday mornings, which proved harder in an odd way.
"If you take time off on Saturday or Sunday morning, you wake up and don't have to do anything," she says. "You don't have to check e-mail as you decided not to. You don't need to check a list of errands. I learned I could last until lunch time."
The benefits became so meaningful, she decided to take a day off every week. And she believes you should as well.
Put aside a "to-do" list for a full day – or if that seems like too much initially, try for a shorter period of time every week.
For most of us, this is part of a forgotten heritage, the day of rest many religious faiths proclaim and our secular society once subscribed to, with blue laws and bans on Sunday shopping.
But she understands how those connotations may not be totally positive since the Sabbath's rules ruled out the joy she wants you to feel.
Instead she urges you to give yourself An Oasis in Time, which is the title of her book. "You have arrived at an oasis. Tie up your camel, stop moving and refresh yourself deeply," she says.
She offers five gateways:
- Protect and prepare: It won’t happen unless you plan ahead and protect the space – be it time for a nap, an evening off, or a full weekend. “There is always one more thing to do. You must resist that temptation,” she says. Keep in mind what she calls the “big why” – why you need this time off and what benefits will be provided. Maybe you want to stare out the window and do nothing. Maybe you want to play with your kids. Maybe you feel burned out.
- Begin and end: Know precisely when you will begin and end. Not knowing the end time will keep you from starting as the break may seem too scary or endless. You should consider beginning with a ritual. It might be a glass of favourite wine or a bubble bath or a shower that washes the week away.
- Disconnect to connect: You need to turn off digital devices to find this oasis. Be deliberate, finding a place to store the smartphone, tablet and laptop. Prepare ahead: You may need to buy a watch to tell time if those devices have been your mainstay or get maps for the hike you plan now that you are mobile-free. Do a body scan, connecting with yourself. And use the time to connect with others and the deeper meaning of your life.
- Slow down to savour: We can’t savour moments if we’re speeding along. Indeed, she notes that research has found that speed reduces empathy. Be mindful. Relish your senses.
- Let go of achieving to rest, reflect and play: For a little time each week, you can play. Don’t use it to read a book for work if that draws you back to work. And enjoy what you’re doing for its own sake. Ms. Paul was such a compulsive achiever that when playing with her child she recalls mentally checking off the item on her to-do list about spending time with that child.
No doubt the obstacles to such a weekly break seem huge. Find support, people who will agree and perhaps even join you in seeking an oasis in time rather than who question your sanity.
"This is doable! You can stop," she insists.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter